Shadow and Bone

Leigh Bardugo is well-known for her Grisha-series but the first book I read from her was Six of Crows, a novel I loved for many reasons. I was about to start the sequel, Crooked Kingdom, but decided to save it and instead go back to the roots. If you haven’t read anything by Bardugo before then let me explain. There’s the Grisha trilogy, starting with Shadow and Bone, followed by Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising. Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom takes place in the same world but they’re not part of the actual series. Crooked Kingdom is still waiting for me, but I’m so glad I decided to read Shadow and Bone first.

As an orphan, Alina enters the army along with her best friend Mal to help Ravka in the war they’re very much loosing. The two friends are sent to the Shadow Fold but while there their regiment gets attacked and Alina reveals a power that has been dormant inside her for her entire life. Before she really understands what’s happening, she’s whisked away to the royal court to live and train with the Grisha and their leader, the Darkling. Alina must understand her gift and learn to control it so that she can help save Ravka, but she’s away from Mal for the first time in her life and while she’s finally feeling like she’s found her place in the world she’s also alone and confused. The weight of expectations from the entire nation is heavy on her shoulders and her gift is hard to control. Surrounded by beautiful Grisha, Alina learns about history, magic and power and, more than anything, betrayal.

I wouldn’t say that this fantasy is anything out of the ordinary and few plot twists took me by surprise. That being said, it was a wonderful read. One of the best books I’ve read this year, Shadow and Bone was interesting, fast paced, fun and packed with action. The world is explained in detail, enough for you to understand but not so much that the actual plot disappears. You get to see the hard reality of Ravka, the war, the many orphans, the army and the fighting but you also see the beautiful world of the Grisha. It’s colourful next to the world Alina grew up in and it’s easy to see how and why she got swept away by the Darkling, the gorgeous Genya, the power in her own veins. It’s a big contrast and one I think Bardugo explored in a terrific way.

The novel contains romance, of course, but it does so in an interesting way. Alina is in love with her friend from childhood, Mal, but never dares to tell him, afraid of the consequences in their friendship. Once she meets the Darkling, a new connection is made; they’re very much alike since they’re not only Grisha but incredibly powerful as well. A love triangle, you might think. I’m going to say yes and no. It’s not the ordinary story were one girl is torn between two men and the story revolves around her decision on which one to choose. Rather, Mal is a comfort for her because he’s always been there and the love she feels for him is not only real but also very deep. The Darkling, by contrast, is mysterious and such a big part of Alina’s new world among the Grisha. She’s smart and she can take care of herself, but at the same time, she’s young and Bardugo portraits her naivete well by having Alina swept away by the Darkling's power and charisma. Some might find it boring to read yet another love triangle, but for me it’s not so much about which man Alina will choose as it is about her growing up and becoming the woman she’s supposed to be.

The story is both compelling and fun and Bardugo is a great writer. The action scenes are nerve wrecking yet it’s never too heavy. The novel has good pace, interesting characters with their own stories and agendas and the world building is deep and thorough. Like I said, it’s not the best book I’ve ever read, but it was a very good read. I’m happy I picked it up and I’m excited to see where the story will lead.